"A Brief History of The Cat Band"
I am the oldest of four brothers. My three younger brothers are Tom, Bill, and Andrew. In the 90’s, they both played and recorded music in a group that came to be known as The Cat Band. I was present to witness the creation of their songs and I really do think it some of the most unique music ever created. During the Cat Band’s existence, I was pretty much clueless about topics such as outsider art or naive rock, two genres I feel that the Cat Band falls into because it really does seem to exist in a Technicolor black hole, teeny-bopper avant-garde sounds emanating forth from the Realms of the Unreal. It is important to note that my brothers were fairly young when this music was recorded, and thus it is refreshingly devoid of irony, a rare thing indeed in this postmodern age where any emotion one can express often needs to be reframed in quotation marks first. The end of the Cat Band came when the band members became, to some extent, self-aware of what they were doing. That is, when they actually figured out how to play their instruments.
The Cat Band began in 1995, formed by my brother Tom, who was about 13 at the time. Our father had gotten us a Toshiba boom box that could both play tapes and record sounds. Tom used it to record himself singing and playing harmonica (I used the same boom box years later, to record my first Sypha Nadon songs). The Toshiba would quickly become one of the Cat Band’s most important tools, as they used it to record countless songs, “live” shows, and rehearsals. However, back in 1995, it was just Tom and his harmonica. In 1995, he recorded what later became the EP Why is the Cat the Best Ever. He did lead vocals and harmonica while I provided back-up vocals. A year later, Bill (age 12 at the time) joined the band for a single, called The Cat is Ultimate. That same year our dad got us a $20 Casio keyboard that quickly became the core of the band’s sound. Tom and I did a song using the Casio called “Blue Cat,” and epic song that was nearly 20 minutes long (and years later would be retooled into a more poppier format).
In 1997 I left the band as a player to focus on becoming the band’s manager, (pretty an honorary title, however). By this point the Cat Band was pretty much just Tom and Bill, with Tom writing the lyrics and providing lead vocals and harmonica while Bill played most of the keyboard and acoustic guitar parts. However, they created a fake band mythology in which it was claimed that the band was in fact a bunch of cats that could play instruments. For example, Larry Cat did vocals, Mongo Cat played the drums, Tabby Cat played Piano, Purr Cat played bass, and so on. The Cat Band during this era sometimes went by the name The Larry Cat Band or The Cat Band and the Kittenetes. Mongo in particular received a lot of attention. He was a giant cat with the world’s largest drum set, a set so large that he could only play the drums behind him by firing off shit out of his ass that in turn would hit the drums (this was known as “firing logs” for reasons I don’t presume to understand). Of course, the entire band’s percussion came courtesy of keyboard drums or whacking big tins of popcorn (or dropping coins on the ground near the Toshiba). Sometimes Bill would refer to himself as Rod Roddy and Tom would call himself Bob Barker during this time period. Still using the Toshiba, the Cat Band recorded their first album, Cat Forever, in 1997. Featuring future classics such as “Super Mario” and prog-like epics such as “Living on the Edge,” the band’s sound was now much more advanced compared to the primitive minimalism of the 1995/1996 sound.
In 1999 the Cat Band, still Tom and Bill, released what many consider to be the Cat Band’s finest moment, The Cat Band’s Greatest Hits Volume 1. Consisting of 17 songs on a 90 minute tape, it featured many classic fan favorites such as “Super Mario,” a cover of Elton John’s “Rocketman,” and a fancy new cover of “Why is the Cat the Best Ever?” This album sounded much more professional compared to the prior one, as by this point Bill had become a much better keyboard player/musician and Tom’s lyrics were becoming much more catchy and memorable (though still surreal and quirky). In addition, by this point the band had acquired a new keyboard the Casio CTK-601, which was much more advanced than the old Casio. Tom even recorded a few copies of the album, which he then gave to his friends, and a small fan base began growing at Woonsocket High School, which was where he and Bill were students at during this time period.
Shortly after that album, Andrew joined the band. Prior to this event he had done a bit of a drumming (and provided the squeak toy sound effect) on the Cat Forever song “Hot Shots.” He also played the voice of an audience member (and also the band announcer) on the Greatest Hits Volume 1 album. Now he joined the band as a full-time member, and around this point, the band dropped the cat pseudonyms and started playing under their own names. The band became, to quote their promotional literature, the world’s first harmonica, drums, and keyboard trio, with Tom on vocals and harmonica, Andrew on drums, and Bill on keyboard (though he also provided some acoustic guitar). The band began writing, rehearsing, and recording new material, and during this era some of the Cat Band’s most classic songs were recorded, such as a new pop version on 1996’s “Blue Cat,” the bouncy “Magic,” the pseudo-jazzy “Watch Your Back Jack,” the political “Racist Cops,” and so on. On Halloween in 1999 they played their first official live show, at a costume party, where they performed four songs: “Blue Cat,” “Watch Your Back Jack,” and “Rocketman,” ending off with “Super Mario” as an encore. Tom was dressed from head to toe in silver tin foil, while Bill wore a hat with a giant Styrofoam ear taped atop it and Andrew dressed as a pirate. The show was a hit with the audience. Sadly, no recordings, either audio or visual, exist of this live show.
In the year 2000 the band continued working on new material, planning on doing a new album. Around this time Bill got his first electric guitar, and while many predicted it would be a move towards a more commercial sound one of the first songs recorded with it was the bracing “Harlem,” perhaps the band’s hardest rocking punk rock song. They also began playing a number of “live shows,” going on tour as the opening act for Hootie and the Blowfish. In reality, these live shows were performed in our basement, with the “audience” sound effect on the Casio standing in for a real audience. All these shows were recorded to tape, and sometimes at the end of a “gig” my brothers would play a few seconds of a Hootie song before having it fade out, to complete the illusion.
2001 was a bumpy year for the Cat Band, however. The planned album was going nowhere, and by this point creative differences were tearing the band apart. Bill had begun writing songs of his own and he and Tom had different ideas about what direction the band should go in (at one point Bill even quit the band to form his own, but he eventually rejoined). The band did two official live shows during this year, first at a Battle of the Bands gig at Woonsocket High School (where they performed “Evil Man is Coming,” “Watch Your Back Jack,” and “Harlem,” disappointing some old the old school fans who were hoping for “Rocketman” and “Super Mario”) and at another Halloween party, in what many could call a fairly disastrous gig (how disastrous? They covered both a Fastball and a Weird Al song). Both of these live shows were videotaped (in fact, I myself recorded the second Halloween one).
In 2002 the Cat Band ceased to exist. They did one more “live show” once again in our basement, pretending to open for No Doubt, and they played many of the classics such as “Magic” and “Blue Cat” along with a few surprises (such as “Goods in the Hood” and a new punk rock version of “Living on the Edge” that bore little resemblance to it’s 18 minute predecessor). And that was it. Tom, Bill and Andrew decided to start a new band, and to this day are still working on music. They are currently working on a new album, and although they don’t have a band name yet, who knows what the future will hold?
Tom still plays music with Andrew and Bill but spends more of his time writing these days than working on music. He has handwritten over twenty novels, and is currently at work on his first official typed novel, Her Skittles Tongue.
Bill is still working hard on the band’s music and also dreams of writing scores for films. He is currently at work on a five part symphony revolving around a science fiction storyline he’s plotted out, and is also working on a pop solo album.
Andrew has also written a few books and still hard at work on music. He’s currently creating a solo album of his own, under the name Atlantis in Autumn.
In addition to the Cat Band, Tom and Andrew formed two other bands, Tin phony (who recorded two of the crudest sounding albums of all time) and Liquid Squid, a shock rap band who do songs such as “Bob the Blowjob Blob” and “Lions and the Tigers.” Also, Tom, Andrew and I formed a punk band a few years ago called The Mute Ants, with Tom on vocals and bass, myself on guitar and keyboard, and Andrew on drums and guitar. Though we haven’t really recorded anything besides a few rehearsals, we did play one live show a few years back, at a Battle of the Bands at my old high school, Woonsocket High School.
I’ve been a fan of the Cat Band for years. In 2000 I began composing my own music, under the name of Sypha Nadon, and though it bares little resemblance to the Cat Band’s output I still consider their early work to be a big influence (also, I used many of the same sound effects that the Cat Band used on their Greatest Hits Album on my song “Gnostic Circus” off the first Sypha Nadon album 11 Chants for Russolo! in which I used the same Casio CTK-601 that my brothers used years ago on their own album). In 2004 I realized that much of the Cat Band’s output remained on tapes scattered all over the place, sometimes on tapes that were nearly ten years ago, and I began to worry about something happening to the tapes and the music getting lost forever. So I decided to record as much of it as I could find into my computer. I simply placed a tiny microphone next to a boom box and played the tapes straight into my computer, and though the sound quality isn’t always the greatest I feel like the original lo-fi origins of the original recordings have been preserved.
And now, at long last, the Cat Band songs have been preserved on digital format. I’ve always loved anthologies and boxed sets so I decided to create what was known as “The Cat Box,” a five volume set chronicling the Cat Band’s greatest moments. Volume one is the band’s earliest material (Why is the Cat the Best Ever EP + The Cat is Ultimate single and the original “Blue Cat”), volume two is a two CD set (CD 1 is Cat Forever album while CD 2 is alternate takes of Cat Forever songs plus the ultra-rare track Son of a Gemini) while volume three is the classic The Cat Band’s Greatest Hits Volume 1. Volume four, which has yet to be recorded, will be a collection of material the band recorded after Andrew joined, including “Magic” and “Harlem,” while volume five will be the Cat Band’s final “live” show in our basement from 2002. In addition, future volumes of TRANS/MISSION will include Cat Band lyrics, interviews, and other historical data. Stay tuned…
For many years, the Cat Band has languished in obscurity while the rest of the world grinded on, oblivious. Now, however, for the very first time, the rest of the world can hear what it’s been missing out on, the glory and wonder that is THE CAT BAND.
-James Champagne, November 28, 2007
NOTES ON VOLUME 2:
For The Cat Band:
Tom Champagne: Lead vocals, lyrics, harmonica, keyboard
Bill Champagne: Keyboards, back-up vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion, lead vocals/lyrics on "Stardom and Fame"
Andrew Champagne: some drumming on "Hot Shots", squeak toy sound effect
$20 Casio Keyboard
Al Hambra acoustic guitar
Toshiba (recorded on)
Tracks 1-7 (Disc A) off "Cat Forever" album (1997)
Tracks 8-12 (Disc B) outtakes from "Cat Forever" album (1997)
Disc A: 77:17 minutes
Disc B: 64:15 minutes
Arranged, Played, and Recorded by The Cat Band (1997)
Digitally re-recorded by James Champagne at Polonius Studios (October 2004)
Cover art by James Champagne
"Apply Your Skills" one of the first Cat Band songs in which the lyrics were written down prior to recording the song.
"Duty Free Shop" inspired by a certain "Seinfeld" episode.
"Hot Shots" inspired by Emerson, Lake and Palmer's song "Karn Evil 9" (off the album "Brain Salad Surgey") plus the Rush song "2112."
Many of the percussion effects achieved on this album were produced by striking the ground near the Toshiba with coins, or by banging on large popcorn tins.